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The Great Conversation (edition 1952)

by Robert Maynard Hutchins

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272441,704 (4)1
Member:Chesco_Alodar
Title:The Great Conversation
Authors:Robert Maynard Hutchins
Info:Britannica Great Books (1952), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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Britannica Great Books: The Great Conversation by Robert Maynard Hutchins

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As I read this book, there were many times that I went to the computer, ready to share a gem of a sentence or a passage with my friends on Facebook or with my readers on my website. Each time I did so, however, I had to stop myself – fight myself even – and walk away from the computer. If I had shared every sentence and every passage I wanted to share, I would have ended up quoting the entire book! From beginning to end, this short book is a giant, shining gem.

Robert Hutchins, playing the part of the great social doctor of Western Civilization, diagnoses the ailment that has come to pervade nearly every aspect of our culture and offers the prescription that could cure us of this otherwise fatal illness. We ourselves have been and now educate our children as, essentially, automatons. Drunk under the influence of Dewey and decline, and at the wheel of the greatest military-economic-political-cultural bloc the world has ever seen, we are a threat to ourselves and others. Hutchins wrote this book over 50 years ago, and the situation has only gotten worse since then. We live in a nation – the United States – and, in the bigger picture, a culture – Western – and a even world, in which the masses have been given ever more leisure time, more political power, and more say in their own lives and in the lives of others through democratic and republican forms of government. And yet these same masses, as anyone can plainly see by watching the evening news or just having a conversation with the man behind the counter at the gas station, are pitifully undereducated, miseducated, and uneducated. The average person has spent 13 years (if they have a high school degree) or perhaps 17 years (if they have a bachelor's degree) on what amounts to perhaps an 8th grade education! In short, we've given the car keys to a 12 year old!

And how do we set about remedying this situation before it destroys us and the world with us? Hutchins provides the answer: a good classical, liberal education. Modern Westerners are asked to elect their leaders, to make important decisions about economics, law, and war; how can they possibly be prepared to do so without having read Plato, Adam Smith, and James Madison? Modern Westerners are asked to digest new and amazing scientific discoveries and technological advances; how can they possibly be expected to do so without some familiarity with Newton, Kepler, and Aristotle? They cannot and they will not be able to fully function in the roles the modern world demands of them until they have thoroughly familiarized themselves with the ideas and thinkers that came before them and built the world they live in.

More than that, and of more importance by far, is the exercise and attainment of the fullness of humanity. Modern man, in addition to the increased authority and responsibility already mentioned, also has more leisure time and circumstances more conducive to the production of intellectual capital than his ancestors of any previous time. The question now is: is modern man to waste his existence as a sad, pitiful half animal-half machine, working, eating, sleeping, passing the time in video games and cheap entertainment, or is he to reach for the fullness of his own humanity, to contemplate the universe and his place in it, the origin and destiny of humanity, the possibilities of what is beyond him? The answer to that question is one that each of us must make for himself and for his children.

I recommend this book to anyone with children of schooling age, to anyone who places value on education and intelligence, and to anyone who wants to be a human being in the fullest sense of the word – in other words, I recommend this book for everyone. ( )
1 vote davidpwithun | Dec 4, 2011 |
This introduction to the 'Great Books of the Western World' is a fantastic starting point for setting out to conquer the suggested canon. While some of it (okay, a lot of it) is very dated, much of the educational philosophy espoused is still quite solid, especially in laying out the reasoning behind arguments in favour of a liberal education. There are also suggestions on how to tackle the set, including a 10 year reading plan for those of you that like to set long-term goals. ( )
1 vote ForrestFamily | May 14, 2009 |
This is a review of "The Great Conversation" which is either a short book or a lengthy essay written by Robert Maynard Hutchins. It is written as an introduction to The Great Books of the Western World but has great value as a discussion of education in the 20th century.
The author is above all an educator. He began as the Dean of the Law School at Yale and was then appointed President of the University of Chicago.
One of his principal themes is the importance of a liberal education. Hutchins defines a liberal education as the study of the authors included in the Great Books. This type of education was historically available only to wealthy men primarily in the 18th and 19th century. Hutchins makes a specific point that this type of education disappeared in the 20th century. The importance of this education is that it familiarizes the student with the great writers of the western tradition and teaches the student to think. The "Great Conversation" is the statements of these authors on the questions basic to human life. They are set out in the Great Books as the "Great Ideas" that form the structure of the two volumes of the Syntopicon. Hutchins does not negate Eastern ideas he simply states that as a product of western civilization it is necessary to learn the Western ideas first. The primary importance of this type of education is to produce educated citizens that can participate meaningfully in the processes of democracy. This education is also necessary to the individual so that they can obtain the best possible quality of life.
Adult education centered around the authors in the Great Books is Hutchins plan for an individual to obtain a liberal education in present day. He believes that this type of education is available to all who seek it and do the work necessary. He is truly a small d democrat and not an ivory tower elitist. He is clearly an elitist about the quality of the authors of the Great Books. He does not require diversity for the sake of political correctness but merit for the sake of quality. Never during his career was Hutchins accused of any type of discrimination except in the name of what he perceived as merit.
I have read the Great Conversation several times and I intend to read it again. I have not embarked on a program of reading the Great Books. I may endeavor to bend my efforts in that direction in the future. I do endorse the idea that a good education, obtained as an adult, does enrich a person's life. I have read some of the Great Books and I do try to read good books. I do believe that the lack of education amongst our citizens does affect the quality of our democracy. ( )
1 vote wildbill | Sep 7, 2008 |
This coffee table book is guaranteed to make you appear well-educated.
  openset | Dec 13, 2006 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert Maynard Hutchinsprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Adler. Mortimer J.Editormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Benton, WilliamPublishersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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The tradition of the West is embodied in the Great Conversation that began in the dawn of history and that continues to the present day.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Abandoned as an infant, Tom Jones grows into a lusty, imprudent young man who, after promising to mend his ways, competes with his abusive rival for the affections of a wealthy squire's daughter and learns the truth about his identity.

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